A cure for jet-lag could be a step closer after scientists pinpointed a gene which stops us from adjusting to new time zones.
Researchers from Britain’s Oxford University and Swiss drug firm Roche found a genetic mechanism in mice that hampers their body clock’s ability to adapt to changes in patterns of light and dark. They showed that if you block the activity of this gene in mice, they recover faster from disturbances in their daily light/darkness cycle.
Professor Russell Foster, director of Oxford University Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, said: “We’re still several years away from a cure for jet-lag, but understanding the mechanisms that generate and regulate our circadian clock gives us targets to develop drugs to help bring our bodies in tune with the solar cycle. Such drugs could potentially have broader therapeutic value for people with mental health issues.”
Most life on Earth has an internal body clock that keeps us ticking on a 24-hour cycle, synchronising a variety of bodily functions such as sleeping and eating with the cycle of light and dark.
When travelling to a different time zone, our body clock eventually adjusts to the local time. However this can take up to one day for every hour the clock is shifted, resulting in several days of tiredness.
In mammals, the body clock – or circadian clock – is controlled by an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) which pulls every cell in the body into the same biological rhythm. The SCN receives information from a specialised system in the eyes which senses the time of day by detecting environmental light, and synchronises the clock to local time.